And then there’s books

John LeCarre’s A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY kicks off when the British embassy in Bonn discovers one of its German employees is missing along with some embarrassing files, threatening to kill German support for the UK’s entry into the Common Market if the theft becomes public—and what does it have to do with a radical student anti-Brit movement in Germany? This reminds me a lot of his first two novels, being very much a mystery, though with a lot more politics—LeCarre actually served at the consulate and this reflects both his distate for it (“Like every British embassy, it’s an outpost of a suburban Britain 20 years out of date that carries all our prejudices about the country it’s stationed in.”) and Germany (being conscious how very much of the Nazi presence still lingered). Very good—and like Spy Who Came in From the Cold, notably more cynical than I think a 21st century American author would dare.
THE YEAR OF THE GRIFFIN is Diana Wynne Jones’ sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm and could be either a satire on Hogwarts or on education generally, as a university dedicated to churning out D&D style wizards finds itself flummoxed that it’s new class includes one of the griffin wizards from the previous book, a dwarf revolutionary and a startling number of royal runaways, all of whom have alarming ideas about what magic can really do. This is a very leisurely book, without much of a narrative spine (it’s closer to a collection of interweaving short stories) but it’s still a good read.
SUPERMAN VS. HOLLYWOOD: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen doesn’t really live up to its title as it shows how Superman or Superboy has consistently made it to the big or small screen througout the decades (not to mention the 1940s radio series)—and at the time this came out (2006) Rossen anticipated the Superman Returns sequel coming along in just a couple of years. This is very good if your prime interest is the Chris Reeve Superman series, much skimpier when covering post-George Reeves TV series and very poor on comics (Rossen asserts Mario Puzo turned Clark Kent into a TV reporter for his Superman script, but Clark had been broadcasting for several years at that point in the comics—and Rossen screw up on other points too). Fair, but the writing’s very stiff.
BLOOD MAIDENS is Barbara Hambly’s third vampire novel, as retired British spy James Asher and his wife are once again recruited by the undead Castilian Ysidro, this time to investigate rumors the Kaiser is preparing for the approaching war by recruiting vampires to breed an undead army. Like Year of the Griffin, this is very leisurely, often feeling more like a travelogue than a novel (or like set-up for the fourth book which I imagine will tackle some of the myseries raised herin)—still, it’s quite readable (and better than the second book, Traveling With the Dead).
PILGRIM IN THE SKY by local Durham author Natania Barron has a young woman’s soul transported into the body of her parallel-world counterpart, which she’s assured is just so that she can wrap up old business with her supposedly dead boyfriend (in reality, she learns, he just jumped to this world), but Maddie soon begins to suspect there’s much more going on than she’s told. There’s a lot to like in this (I love the underlying concept and the ending is spectacular) but it does take a very long time to get going (Maddie spends several chapters after her kidnapping just drifting passively). Still worth a read.

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One response to “And then there’s books

  1. Pingback: Unfinished books, Superman movies, Sherlock Holmes and more: this week’s reading | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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